Ordeal by Fire: Canada, 1910-1945

By Ralph Allen | Go to book overview

XXIII
William Lyon Mackenzie King-The two women in his life--The labor conciliator and the disciple of Laurier

MY desire, my inclination, is all for politics: Mackenzie King, diary, January 1919.

Although he was six months and one day younger than the "youthful" Meighen, when they met as rival leaders of the country's two great political parties King was, in everything except the professional and physical senses, an old man. Emotionally and spiritually he was already a tragic prisoner of the past, lonely curator of a treasure house of family memories beclouded by misfortune, and victim of a mother complex of almost frightening pervasiveness. And in the years not far ahead he was to become the acolyte of a private cult of mysticism in which the dead and the living conversed in everyday language about everyday matters; in which stone and marble ruins gathered from the corners of the earth and spread over the lovely Gatineau Hills had a meaning for him and him alone; in which, during the last quarter century of his life, the only animate things for which he could find love and affection were a series of Irish terriers named Pat.

Throughout his public career, the complexity of King's inner nature and inner thoughts remained largely hidden, even to his closest associates. He had his own kind of reserve, but most people who came in contact with it put it down, unlike Meighen's reserve, to shyness rather than to the lack of human warmth. The country King ruled so long saw him mainly as orthodox, almost boringly respectable, not a stand-patter but far from the radical he imagined himself to be-one of the few people whom the labels small-l liberal and small-c conservative seemed to suit equally well and without serious contradiction.

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